There is a special magic that happens when children and dogs connect. An exciting new one-of-a-kind pilot program at Alexander Youth Network launched in January 2018 to accomplish just that. The Bark and Heal program, offered through the support of Furbabies Animal Rescue, pairs dogs in need of adoption with children in our Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility (PRTF). Daryl Wagner, a long-time Therapeutic Foster parent with Alexander, is also the owner of the rescue. “These children, like the dogs they train, have been treated as though they do not have value. But they have so much love to give and should know that countless people love them in return.”
Drawing on the success of the A New Leash on Life program, the children teach basic obedience, house training, and socialization through positive reinforcement and repetition. Throughout the program the kids learn how to manage their assigned dog’s personalities, including rewarding positive behaviors and redirecting undesirable ones. Lori Douglas, program manager, notes that “the process of teaching the dogs to moderate their energy and emotions allows the kids to model those own behaviors themselves.”
The program is already making a huge difference in the four weeks since its launch. Nikki Cannon, one of Alexander’s residential treatment supervisors, shared that after the first day of the program she overheard one of the participants telling his teacher, “I can’t swim anymore…I am a trainer now and I won’t have time!”
Lori, who first envisioned the program 25 years ago while working as a social worker on the streets of Baltimore, cannot wait to review results of the first eight-week session. The University of Northern Georgia is also conducting a study of the program with pre and post outcomes to help better refine the effort. We are incredibly grateful for the support of Daryl Wagner, Furbabies Animal Rescue, the University of North Georgia and the Bill and Sharon Allen Family Foundation whose transformative gift made this program a reality.
Have you ever found yourself completely lost in a song or piece of music, perhaps bopping your head or walking in step to the beat? There’s a reason why. Joe Heritage, lead trainer at Alexander Youth Network, explains that “Research suggests that music can positively influence brain function, mood, pulse rate, respiration, blood pressure, posture, and stress level. All of these functions can have an impact on emotional states, behavior and learning. In other words, music is good stuff.”
The children in psychiatric residential treatment at Alexander’s main campus were recently treated to multiple music sessions with Liz Corwin and Holly Johnson, singer-songwriters who teamed up to create Liz, Holly, & The Jolly Lollies.
Liz shared, “Holly and I looked forward to each music session and getting to sing and dance with the children at Alexander. We believe a significant aspect of our job as educators and musicians is to provide music that can support children in learning how to self-regulate. We also believe that music is a birthright and that all children can learn to sing in tune and keep a rhythm.”
Made possible through a gift by Ryan Hyslop of Rhino Market, a former volunteer yoga instructor at Alexander, the Jolly Lollies plan to be back on campus soon for more time with the kids. “We felt like the children were all very receptive to our lessons and not only learned some new songs, rhythms, and musical games but were able to lose track of time and have fun,” Holly and Liz said after their final visit to campus. “Thank you for sharing these amazing kids with us and we hope to come back and sing with them again soon.”
Thank you, Ryan, Liz and Holly. Music is medicine, let’s all take a moment to tune out and tune in.
Thank you to Speedway Children’s Charities for providing a $17,930 grant to Alexander Youth Network’s Occupational Therapy program. The funding will help provide the tools to create a calming and healing environment for the kids, including floors, lighting, storage and furniture. In addition, the funds will allow the purchase of necessary activities and supplies, including publications, deep-pressure rolling pins, self-calming cards, squeeze balls, finger paints, pencil grips, small trampolines and more. These tools help to treat the children and provide the resources necessary to meet each child’s sensory needs. “With appropriate intervention these kids will be more settled in their environment and their bodies, allowing them to make better human connections, moving them toward strengthening their skills in the other most complex areas of the brain, the relational and cognitive areas,” said Sarah Cummings, Education Manager. “We are very grateful for this grant and to be able to provide a state of the art environment for our kids to receive Occupational Therapy services. The funds really help us meet the intense and specific needs of each child, as well as help our staff do what they all love doing, to go above and beyond for the kids.”
Children in Alexander’s Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility (PRTF) are discovering the joy and the benefits of dance therapy. Introduced in April 2016, the dance therapy program involves the therapeutic use of movement to access creativity and emotions and promotes emotional, mental, physical and social health.
There are many benefits to dance therapy. It is a form of self-expression. In addition, there are physical benefits as it relates to it being a cardio workout. Dance therapy can create a modality of expressive art that can make the difference between resistance and relationship in the therapy setting by creating a non-threatening group. Moreover, it helps to improve social interactions among clients and clients and staff, as well as encourage discipline.
The dance therapy program is facilitated by Ms. Bahtyah Benyahmeen, a behavioral health counselor and a former dance teacher. During dance classes, she is joined by a PRTF staff member and together they work with the children on difference genres of dance, including Hip Hop, Ballet and line dances. Kids in PRTF enjoy putting together performances and are planning to do two performances a year.